Peru and Colombia Exchange Knowledge to Counter Guerrilla Propaganda
By Dialogo November 29, 2012
Representatives of the Colombian Army’s Military Information Support Operations, the United States Southern Command, and the U.S. Special Operations Command South, arrived in Lima, Peru, and traveled 200 kilometers to the Peruvian Military’s San Ramon Air Base in the province of Junín, in early September. Their objective was to demonstrate the capabilities of the “Radio-in-a-Box” (RIAB) technology being used by Colombia to counter terrorist organizations’ radio propaganda.
“The purpose of the demonstration was to showcase the capabilities of the Tactical RIAB used by the Colombian Military to shape the information environment and to provide citizens with positive government messages and broadcasts,” said Captain Poquita Gibbs-Ferguson, from the U.S. Military Information Support Team in Peru.
During the next three days, the Colombian Military team showed their Peruvian counterparts how to employ mobile broadcasting stations in remote areas where there is no access to signals from conventional broadcast stations as an information operations tool. In the Colombian case, they use this to oppose the messages transmitted by guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Shining Path guerrilla, in the case of Peru.
The Colombian Army has a total of 97 stations (both fixed and mobile), which cover more than 90 percent of the country’s territory, allowing them access to practically the entire nation. At a cost of 40,000 dollars, the units were customized for the Army through commercial off-the-shelf procurement. The system is run by a RIAB operator who is responsible for broadcasting content generated by the Colombian Special Psychological Operations Group with the aim of disseminating targeted adverse messages to terrorist radio propaganda over their own frequency.
“This type of technological and knowledge exchanges allow us to share many capabilities that the Colombian Military has acquired and developed throughout our more than 50 years of conflict, and position us as one of the leading military forces in the Hemisphere,” said Major Luis Granados, who attended the presentation on behalf of the Colombian Army’s Information Operations Directorate. “We must work jointly because otherwise, we are our own enemy in the face of drug trafficking and terrorism networks that are working collaboratively,” he added.
The San Ramón Air Base, located in similar terrain to that of the remote Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers valley, where the remnants of the guerrilla Shining Path are concentrated, was selected as the scenario of the exchange.
“The RIAB equipment is a very positive method of communications because it can be adapted to any type of terrain, and more so when this one is rural or inaccessible,” said Peruvian Air Force Col. Daniel Iván Taipe Domínguez, a systems engineer who attended the demonstration.
There, one of the mobile broadcast stations was tested to establish a connection between the Peruvian Military and the local civil population, and to show not only the RIAB’s counter-messaging capabilities, but also a way to address the troops.
Since military service members spend long periods away from their homes and families, they can utilize the radio stations to communicate with their loved ones, a simple act that helps to maintain high troop morale. The radio stations can also be used to keep the troops abreast of education programs and benefits that the military institution itself may offer its service members, among other topics, as well as a conduit to propagate Human Rights training and doctrine.
“Another very important use for the mobile stations is as a coordination instrument between the population and the authorities in case of natural disasters, a situation that we were able to witness during the last strong earthquake that shook our country [Pisco in 2007],” said Peruvian Air Force Cmdr. Juan Manuel Ponce Villarroel, an intelligence officer at the event.
Despite the fact that Shining Path is no longer the organized movement it was in the 1980s, there are still remnant cells which uphold a ideology and thrive on resisting the government. This creates a need for the military to broadcast counterinsurgency and support messages so that the civil population can alert the authorities about any eventual risk of reorganization by the guerrillas.
“Our country has the same geographic characteristics as Colombia, making radio transmissions unable to reach the entire population and leaving a part of it confined and removed from reality,” added Col. Taipe Domínguez. “All this added to turf wars between rival terrorists like the FARC, Shining Path and drug trafficking, which take advantage of the terrain to proselytize and carry out their criminal actions.”
Still, Cdr. Ponce Villarroel highlighted the fact that, “the Peruvian reality is different than that of Colombia, but the operational concept itself is the same: sending positive messages to the population and our own service members.”
For its part, the Colombian Military made it very clear that the RIAB is only part of a broader Information Operations and communications strategy campaign designed to accomplish a clear objective through various targeted actions. They stated that a sole mobile broadcast station would not achieve the same effect as executing several joint actions simultaneously to reach the objective that the Peruvian Joint Command expects, such as a television station and printed publications.
One of the outcomes of the Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) between Colombia and Peru was the decision to have the Peruvian officers visit Colombia to witness firsthand the system currently in place there. In addition to fixed and mobile radio stations, the Colombian army structure currently has a television station, editing room, printed publications and the most important: the Information Operations and International Missions School, where military personnel can be trained in information and psychological operations that have proven effective as a non-kinetic weapon in the fight against counterinsurgents.
“We hope that these interactions continue to be supported to allow information exchanges to take place in other areas as well, and to keep positioning Colombia as a regional example in topics related to Information Operations,” concluded Colombian Maj. Granados.